By: Ariel Hochstadt

A team of remote workers presents unique cybersecurity challenges for companies. Rather than leaving it to tech teams, a HR professional’s skill set is one of the best secret weapons companies of all sizes have against data breaches.

The benefits of using remote workers are many. A virtual team allows companies to be more flexible and more efficient. Research shows that, on average, businesses that use virtual teams keep a happier and more productive workforce.

In a market increasingly dominated by digitalization, a diverse crew of talented remote employees is a huge asset for businesses of all sizes.

So it shouldn’t be a surprise that the use of virtual teams is on the rise. A recent report by the World Economic Forum highlights flexible and remote work as one of the biggest drivers of transformation in the global marketplace.

But a number of cybersecurity issues emerge alongside remote workers. Research cited by The Society for Human Resource Management shows that human error is one of the most common reasons for data breaches and security flaws. As a HR professional, you must be able to bring your unique knowledge to the fore to guard against breaches.

Why is HR so essential?

Human resources departments are the gatekeepers of sensitive personal information. On top of that, it’s up to HR to ensure compliance with corporate policy, initiate and implement training programs, and make sure the whole team is on the same page.

Making sure everyone abides by company policy is especially challenging when a large part of the workforce is virtual.

Traditional workplaces can keep their data more or less contained in an internal network. But remote workers will send, receive, access, manage, and share sensitive company data from their personal devices and over unsecured networks.

It’s up to HR to ensure that all workers have the training and resources they need to keep themselves – and by extension the company – safe online.

This is really important in the context of cybersecurity because if one worker’s personal data is breached, the whole company is affected.

What are the risks?

Some cybersecurity risks increase in likelihood with a remote workforce.

  • Public wi-fi use. We all know that remote workers love to work from places with public wi-fi networks like coffee shops. And why not? Unfortunately, public wi-fi networks are vulnerable to attacks and can be easily intercepted.
  • Personal devices. Traditional workforces used to give their employees secured company devices for work. Nowadays, we all tend to use our personal devices for both personal and professional tasks. If a worker’s device is hacked, company data could be put at risk.
  • Malware, phishing, and other targeted attacks. Precisely because remote workers are vulnerable, hackers interested in targeting your company are more likely to exploit their devices and accounts. That’s why it’s especially important to insist on training and communication between tech teams and remote employees.

Who is at risk?

While data breaches of large companies often make the news, hackers tend to see small to medium size businesses as easy targets. That makes sense. Small to medium size companies are less likely to have the budget for serious cybersecurity practices and technology. According to industry experts CSO, the gap is so severe that more than half of organizations report a problematic shortage of cybersecurity skills.

How HR can improve best practice and minimize cybersecurity risk

Develop a policy

HR should be working with upper management to ensure an intelligent and workable cybersecurity policy. It’s up to you to bridge the knowledge gaps between different departments and the tech department. It’s also on you to make sure all workers, including remote workers, are up to date with the company policy.

You should require that all workers read and sign off on this policy.

Communication

Make sure remote workers can easily get in touch with the tech team. If they make a mistake, lose their device, or fall victim to a phishing scam they should know who to contact and be able to do so quickly and easily.

Education and training

As an HR professional, education and training are paramount because human error is so often to blame for cybersecurity issues. If a worker loses their device or mistakenly clicks on a dodgy link, it can have huge repercussions for the whole company.

Your whole team should be required to go through training about cybersecurity threats. If everyone learns how to spot a phishing email or malware scam, your whole company will be safer. If your company has limited resources you can consult an outside consultant or expert. Basic group web streams can include your remote workers in these training sessions.

Password Policy and Etiquette

Frequent automatic password changes used to be considered cybersecurity de rigueur. But studies show that employees are more likely to use weaker passwords when they are required to change them often.

Rather, require your team to use a password manager or secure passphrase for their accounts. And, make sure they are up-to-date with security best practices so they know what to do if there is breach. Again this comes back to training and inter-departmental communication.

If you make it a company policy to use a password manager and communicate its importance to you team, your entire company will be safer for it.

Compulsory VPN use

Virtual private networks (VPNs) should be part of all companies’ best practices. They are especially important for companies that use remote workers. VPNs establish an encrypted connection between your worker’s device and a private server. Encryption makes all the traffic remote workers send and receive online unreadable.

It means your remote workers are protected on public wi-fi and all their devices stay secured.

Leading VPN providers offer team licenses, which are a great solution for businesses. It’s preferable to asking your employees to search for and subscribe to a VPN themselves because providers vary considerably in quality. According to experts vpnMentor, you should get a VPN that uses advanced encryption and has a reputation for network security.

If you use a high-quality VPN with a business package you will also get a dedicated account manager, centralized billing, and priority support. That means your remote workers have an immediate point of contact in case they have issues with the service. Signing up for a group package will keep costs down too.

Recruitment

HR managers need to be looking for workers from a variety of tech fields, but cybersecurity experts are valuable in any organization.

Even if you’re not a tech company, it’s up to you to make sure your company is attractive to tech grads with room for growth and attractive packages.

By leveraging skills inherent to human resources, you can do your part to bridge the cybersecurity gap and keep your company’s data safe.

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